A QWERTY keyboard on a laptop computer

QWERTY (play /ˈkwɜrti/) is the most common modern-day keyboard layout. The name comes from the first six letters (keys) appearing in the topleft letter row of the keyboard, read left to right: Q-W-E-R-T-Y. The QWERTY design is based on a layout created for the Sholes and Glidden typewriter and sold to Remington in the same year, when it first appeared in typewriters. It became popular with the success of the Remington No. 2 of 1878, and remains in use on electronic keyboards due to the network effect of a standard layout and a belief that alternatives fail to provide very significant advantages.[1] The use and adoption of the QWERTY keyboard is often viewed as one of the most important case studies in open standards because of the widespread, collective adoption and use of the product, particularly in the United States.[2]


History and purposes

Keys are arranged on diagonal columns, to give space for the levers.

This layout was devised and created in the early 1870s by Christopher Latham Sholes, a newspaper editor and printer who lived in Milwaukee. With the assistance of his friends Carlos Glidden and Samuel W. Soule he built an early writing machine for which a patent application was filed in October 1867.[3]

The first model constructed by Sholes used a piano-like keyboard with two rows of characters arranged alphabetically as follows:[3]

- 3 5 7 9 N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
 2 4 6 8 . A B C D E F G H I J K L M

His "Type Writer" had two features which made jams a serious issue. Firstly, characters were mounted on metal arms or typebars, which would clash and jam if neighboring arms were depressed at the same time or in rapid succession.[4] Secondly, its printing point was located beneath the paper carriage, invisible to the operator, a so-called "up-stroke" design. Consequently, jams were especially serious, because the typist could only discover the mishap by raising the carriage to inspect what he had typed. The solution was to place commonly used letter-pairs (like "th" or "st") so that their typebars were not neighboring, avoiding jams. While it is often said that QWERTY was designed to "slow down" typists, this is incorrect – it was designed to prevent jams[4] while typing at speed, yet some of the layout decisions, such as placing only one vowel on the home row, did have the effect of hobbling more modern keyboards.[5]

Sholes struggled for the next five years to perfect his invention, making many trial-and-error rearrangements of the original machine's alphabetical key arrangement. His study of letter-pair frequency by educator Amos Densmore, brother of the financial backer James Densmore, is believed to have influenced the arrangement of letters, but called in question.[6]

In November 1868 he changed the arrangement of the latter half of the alphabet, O to Z, right-to-left.[7] In April 1870 he arrived at a four-row, upper case keyboard approaching the modern QWERTY standard, moving six vowels, A, E, I, O, U, and Y, to the upper row as follows:[8]

  2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 -
    A E I . ? Y U O ,

In 1873 Sholes's backer, James Densmore, succeeded in selling manufacturing rights for the Sholes & Glidden Type-Writer to E. Remington and Sons, and within a few months the keyboard layout was finalized by Remington's mechanics. The keyboard ultimately presented to Remington was arranged as follows:[9]

  2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 - ,
Q W E . T Y I U O P
A X & C V B N ? ; R

After it purchased the device, Remington made several adjustments which created a keyboard with what is essentially the modern QWERTY layout. Their adjustments included placing the "R" key in the place previously allotted to the period key (this has been claimed to be done with the purpose of enabling salesmen to impress customers by pecking out the brand name "TYPE WRITER" from one keyboard row but this claim is unsubstantiated[9]). Vestiges of the original alphabetical layout remained in the "home row" sequence DFGHJKL.[10]

The QWERTY layout became popular with the success of the Remington No. 2 of 1878, the first typewriter to include both upper and lower case letters, via a shift key.

Much less commented-on than the order of the keys is that the keys are not on a grid, but rather that each column slants diagonally; this is because of the mechanical linkages – each key being attached to a lever, and hence the offset prevents the levers from running into each other – and has been retained in most electronic keyboards. Some keyboards, such as the Kinesis, retain the QWERTY layout but arrange the keys in vertical columns, to reduce unnecessary lateral finger motion.[11]

Differences from modern layout

Substituting characters

Latham Sholes's 1878 QWERTY keyboard layout

The QWERTY layout depicted in Sholes's 1878 patent includes a few differences from the modern layout, most notably in the absence of the numerals 0 and 1, with each of the remaining numerals shifted one position to the left of their modern counterparts. The letter M is located at the end of the third row to the right of the letter L rather than on the fourth row to the right of the N, the letters X and C are reversed, and most punctuation marks are in different positions or are missing entirely.[12] 0 and 1 were omitted to simplify the design and reduce the manufacturing and maintenance costs; they were chosen specifically because they were "redundant" and could be recreated using other keys. Typists who learned on these machines learned the habit of using the uppercase letter I (or lowercase letter L) for the digit one, and the uppercase O for the zero.[13]

Combined characters

In early designs, some characters were produced by printing two symbols with the carriage in the same position. For instance, the exclamation point, which shares a key with the numeral 1 on modern keyboards, could be reproduced by using a three-stroke combination of an apostrophe, a backspace, and a period. A semicolon (;) was produced by printing a comma (,) over a colon (:). As the backspace key is slow in simple mechanical typewriters (the carriage was heavy and optimized to move in the opposite direction), a more professional approach was to block the carriage by pressing and holding the space bar while printing all characters that needed to be in a shared position. To make this possible, the carriage was designed to advance forward only after releasing the space bar.

The 0 key was added and standardized in its modern position early in the history of the typewriter, but the 1 and exclamation point were left off some typewriter keyboards into the 1970s.[14]

Contemporary alternatives

There was no particular technological requirement for the QWERTY layout,[9] since at the time there were ways to make a typewriter without the "up-stroke" typebar mechanism that had required it to be devised. Not only were there rival machines with "down-stroke" and "frontstroke" positions that gave a visible printing point, the problem of typebar clashes could be circumvented completely: examples include Thomas Edison's 1872 electric print-wheel device which later became the basis for Teletype machines; Lucien Stephen Crandall's typewriter (the second to come onto the American market) whose type was arranged on a cylindrical sleeve; the Hammond typewriter of 1887 which used a semi-circular "type-shuttle" of hardened rubber (later light metal); and the Blickensderfer typewriter of 1893 which used a type wheel. The early Blickensderfer's "Ideal" keyboard was also non-QWERTY, instead having the sequence "DHIATENSOR" in the home row, these 10 letters being capable of composing 70% of the words in the English language.[15]


Alternating hands while typing is a desirable trait in a keyboard design, since while one hand is typing a letter, the other hand can get in position to type the next letter. Thus, a typist may fall into a steady rhythm and type quickly. However, when a string of letters is done with the same hand, the chances of stuttering are increased and a rhythm can be broken, thus decreasing speed and increasing errors and fatigue. In the QWERTY layout many more words can be spelled using only the left hand than the right hand. In fact, thousands of English words can be spelled using only the left hand, while only a couple of hundred words can be typed using only the right hand. In addition, most typing strokes are done with the left hand in the QWERTY layout. This is helpful for left-handed people but to the disadvantage of right-handed people.[16]

Computer keyboards

The standard QWERTY keyboard layout used in the US. Some countries, such as the UK and Canada, use a slightly different QWERTY (the @ and " are switched in the UK); see keyboard layout.

The first computer terminals such as the Teletype were typewriters that could produce and be controlled by various computer codes. These used the QWERTY layouts, and added keys such as escape (ESC) which had special meanings to computers. Later keyboards added function keys and arrow keys. Since the standardization of PC-compatible computers and Windows after the 1980s, most full-sized computer keyboards have followed this standard (see drawing at right). This layout has a separate numeric keypad for data entry at the right, 12 function keys across the top, and a cursor section to the right and center with keys for Insert, Delete, Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down with cursor arrows in an inverted-T shape.

Diacritical marks and international variants

Different computer operating systems have methods of support for input of different languages such as Chinese, Hebrew or Arabic. QWERTY is designed for English, a language without any diacritical marks. QWERTY keyboards meet issues when having to type an accent. Until recently, no norm was defined for a standard QWERTY keyboard layout allowing the typing of accented characters, apart from the US-International layout.

Depending on the operating system and sometimes the application program being used, there are many ways to generate Latin characters with accents.

UK-Extended Layout

Microsoft Windows XP SP2 and above provide the UK-Extended layout that behaves exactly the same as the standard UK layout for all the characters it can generate, but can additionally generate a number of diacritical marks, useful when working with text in other languages (including Welsh - a UK language). Not all combinations work on all keyboards.

  • acute accents (e.g. á) on a,e,i,o,u,w,y,A,E,I,O,U,W,Y are generated by pressing the AltGr key together with the letter, or AltGr and apostrophe, followed by the letter (see note below);
  • grave accents (e.g. è) on a,e,i,o,u,w,y,A,E,I,O,U,W,Y are generated by pressing the backquote (`) [which is now a dead key], then the letter;
  • circumflex (e.g. â) on a,e,i,o,u,w,y,A,E,I,O,U,W,Y is generated by AltGr and 6, followed by the letter;
  • diaeresis or umlaut (e.g. ö) on a,e,i,o,u,w,y,A,E,I,O,U,W,Y is generated by AltGr and 2, then the letter;
  • tilde (e.g. ã) on a,n,o,A,N,O is generated by AltGr and #, then the letter;
  • cedilla (e.g. ç) under c,C is generated by AltGr and the letter.

These combinations are designed to be easy to remember, as the circumflex accent (e.g. â) is similar to a caret (^), printed above the 6 key; the diaeresis (e.g. ö) is similar to the double-quote (") above 2 on the UK keyboard; the tilde (~) is printed on the same key as the #.

Like US-International, UK-Extended does not cater for many languages written with Latin characters, including Romanian and Turkish, or any using different character sets such as Greek and Russian.


  • The AltGr and letter method used for acutes and cedillas does not work for applications which assign shortcut menu functions to these key combinations. For acute accents the AltGr and apostrophe method should be used.

Other keys and characters

International variants

Minor changes to the arrangement are made for other languages.

Alternatives to QWERTY

Several alternatives to QWERTY have been developed over the years, claimed by their designers and users to be more efficient, intuitive and ergonomic. Nevertheless, none has seen widespread adoption, due partly to the sheer dominance of available keyboards and training.[17] Although studies have shown the superiority in typing speed afforded by alternative keyboard layouts[18] economists Stan Liebowitz and Stephen E Margolis have claimed that these studies are flawed and more rigorous studies are inconclusive as to whether they actually offer any real benefits.[1] The most widely used such alternative is the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard; another increasingly popular alternative is Colemak, which is based partly on QWERTY and is therefore easier for an existing QWERTY typist to learn while offering several optimisations.[19] Most modern computer operating systems support this and other alternative mappings with appropriate special mode settings, but few keyboards are manufactured with keys labeled according to this standard.


The Nokia E55 uses a half QWERTY keyboard layout.

A half QWERTY keyboard is a combination of an alpha-numeric keypad and a QWERTY keypad, designed for mobile phones.[20] In a half QWERTY keyboard, two characters share the same key, which reduces the number of keys and increases the surface area of each key, useful for mobile phones that have little space for keys.[20] It means that 'Q' and 'W' will share the same key and the user has to press the key once to type 'Q' and twice to type 'W'.

Displaced QWERTY

Also designed for mobile devices, the displaced QWERTY layout allows for the increase of button area by over 40% while keeping the same candybar form factor. Entering, spacing and deleting are handled by gestures over the text area, reducing the keyboard's screen footprint. The layout is essentially a rearrangement of keys on the right half of the keyboard under those on the left and, as such, should present a gentler learning curve to touch typists. It was first seen on the iPhone application "LittlePad".[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ a b Liebowitz, Stan; Margolis, Stephen E. (1990), "The Fable of the Keys", Journal of Law and Economics 33 (1): 1–26, doi:10.1086/467198 
  2. ^ "Casson and Ryan, Open Standards, Open Source Adoption in the Public Sector, and Their Relationship to Microsoft’s Market Dominance". Papers.ssrn.com. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1656616. Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  3. ^ a b US 79868, Sholes, C. Latham; Carlos Glidden & Samuel W. Soule, "Improvement in Type-writing Machines", issued July 14, 1868 
  4. ^ a b Rehr, Darryl, Why QWERTY was Invented, http://home.earthlink.net/~dcrehr/whyqwert.html 
  5. ^ Rehr, Darryl. "Consider QWERTY". http://home.earthlink.net/~dcrehr/whyqwert.html. Retrieved 12 December 2009. "QWERTY's effect, by reducing those annoying clashes, was to speed up typing rather than slow it down." 
  6. ^ Koichi Yasuoka: The Truth of QWERTY, entry dated August 01, 2006.
  7. ^ Koichi and Motoko Yasuoka: Myth of QWERTY Keyboard, Tokyo: NTT Publishing, 2008. pp.12-20
  8. ^ Koichi and Motoko Yasuoka: Myth of QWERTY Keyboard, Tokyo: NTT Publishing, 2008. pp.24-25
  9. ^ a b c Koichi and Motoko Yasuoka: On the Prehistory of QWERTY, ZINBUN, No.42, pp.161-174, 2011.
  10. ^ David, Paul A. (1985), "Clio and the Economics of QWERTY", American Economic Review (American Economic Association) 75 (2): 332–337, JSTOR 1805621 
  11. ^ Kinesis – Ergonomic Benefits of the Contoured Keyboard – Vertical key layout
  12. ^ US 207559, Sholes, Christopher Latham, issued August 27, 1878 
  13. ^ Weller, Charles Edward (1918), The early history of the typewriter, La Porte, Indiana: Chase & Shepard, printers, http://www.archive.org/details/earlyhistorytyp00wellgoog 
  14. ^ See for example the Olivetti Lettera 36, introduced in 1972
  15. ^ Shermer, Michael (2008). The mind of the market. Macmillan. p. 50. ISBN 0805078320. 
  16. ^ Diamond, Jared (April 1997), "The Curse of QWERTY", DISCOVER Magazine, http://discovermagazine.com/1997/apr/thecurseofqwerty1099/, retrieved 2009-04-29, "More than 3,000 English words utilize QWERTY's left hand alone, and about 300 the right hand alone." 
  17. ^ Gould, Stephen Jay (1987) "The Panda's Thumb of Technology." Natural History 96 (1): 14-23; Reprinted in Bully for Brontosaurus. New York: W.W. Norton. 1992, pp. 59-75.
  18. ^ Paul David, "Understanding the economics of QWERTY: the necessity of history", Economic history and the modern economist, 1986
  19. ^ Krzywinski, Martin. "Colemak - Popular Alternative". Carpalx - keyboard layout optimizer. Canada's Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre. http://mkweb.bcgsc.ca/carpalx/?colemak. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  20. ^ a b "Half-QWERTY keyboard layout - Mobile terms glossary". GSMArena.com. http://www.gsmarena.com/glossary.php3?term=half-qwerty-keyboard. Retrieved 2011-01-31. 

External links

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